The Conservation Center of Chicago:
A Unique Team Combining Many Disciplines

The Conservation Medicine Center of Chicago (CMCC) is a collaboration among the Chicago Zoological Society, which operates Brookfield Zoo; Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine; and the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. The Center, which uses facilities at the three institutions, brings together a unique team of physicians, veterinarians, researchers and clinicians in many disciplines.

The term "conservation medicine" is relatively new, but physicians, veterinarians, public health professionals and ecologists have been independently exploring the concept for the past decade.

"Diseases are moving from animals to humans and from one animal species to another at an alarming rate. When I went to school, we were told, 'This disease won't go from a dog to a cat.' Then all of a sudden the lions of the Serengeti were decimated by a dog virus. How did that happen? When did it happen?"

- Lee Cera, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine

It is now common knowledge that people and animals can suffer from some of the same diseases. Those infectious diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans are known as zoonoses. The CMCC has set up a core laboratory to investigate potential zoonotic diseases. This Infectious Disease Diagnostic Laboratory is funded by a $900,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration. The CMCC is applying for more grants to coordinate research and support education.

Emerging Infectious Diseases:
A Serious Global Threat

Factors responsible for the emergence of infectious diseases are often the same that threaten the environment and wildlife populations. Diseases that have been held in check by natural mechanisms or isolated from potential new hosts may emerge when human influence changes the ecology of the historic host of the disease. For example:

  • Yellow fever's emergence early in the 1900s resulted from the disruption of the environmental relationship between birds-that served as hosts-and mosquitoes, which then transmitted the disease to humans.
  • Lyme disease emerged as the populations of host species such as deer exploded. And the ecosystems containing the ticks that carry the disease have been altered because of logging, housing developments, and the elimination of animals that kept the deer population in check.
  • In the early 1970s, rabid raccoons moved into habitats that were free of rabies, leading to an outbreak of the disease. It has killed thousands of wild animals and cost millions of dollars in an effort to protect human health.
  • HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, emerged in central Africa, probably as a mutation of a Simian virus. The emergence was apparently related to contact with primates and most likely a result of the increasing slaughter of primates for the commercial trade in bush-meat.

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Last reviewed:
Oct. 15, 2003

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